According to Facebook, more than 800 million people now actively use the social networking giant. You don’t know most of them, of course – but some are very close to you. Even your grandmother might now be on Facebook this moment, playing Bejeweled and uploading pictures of her cat.
Family members will usually request to be your Facebook friend for obvious reasons. But should you actually go through with it, or should you keep your friends list to, well, friends?
Pro: Never Forget A Birthday Again
Oh, boy. Yesterday was aunt Jen’s birthday, and you didn’t send her a card. Now she’s going to tell your mother, who’s going to guilt trip you into sending a belated birthday email. Or she’ll just act snarky at the next family get-together.
Remembering birthdays can be a huge annoyance, and Facebook can save your bacon by sending you notifications. Not every family member will care about this, but for some, a forgotten birthday is a major social no-no. And for crying out loud, you don’t want to take the chance of forgetting your parents’ birthdays, do you? You’d never hear the end of that.
Con: No One Will Forget Your Birthday
Oh, boy. It’s your birthday. And now you have a constant crawl of happy birthday wishes from everyone with the tiniest bit of common blood. Some are even trying to send you Facebook gifts or asking if you’d like to go out for drinks. You probably do have plans to go out for drinks – just not with your uncle.
And then there are the after-photos. What happens when grandma sees the photo of you drunk at two in the morning, gyrating your pelvis at a monument commemorating local civic leaders? You might not even know she saw it until you find an Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlet in your Christmas stocking.
You can police these photos if you change your Facebook settings so you have to approve being tagged in photos. This can become annoying as well – perhaps you’d be better off if grandma wasn’t a Facebook friend in the first place.
Pro: Keep In Touch With The Family
Some people, particularly those who use Facebook the most, gather great joy from building and maintaining family ties. Do you want to miss the Corvette your dad bought to celebrate his mid-life crisis or the photos your sister took during her first spring break?
Facebook isn’t the only way to do this, of course – but considering its prevalence, it has replaced a lot of other methods of sharing. A decade ago a lot of people in my family were emailing photos taken on digital cameras. Today, they just upload them on to Facebook. It’s quick, easy and complete.
Con: The Family Keeps In Touch With You
Family is supposed to be supportive during rough times. In reality, those closest to us can often be the people we want to hear from the least – at least for a time. This is where Facebook’s advantages can turn around and bite you.
Did you lose your job? Are you dating someone new? Have you broken up with someone? You’ll be sure to receive no shortage of messages and wall posts about it. If you happen to live in a family full of people who are entirely reasonable, sane and supportive, good for you! The rest of us have at least one person who shares our last name but lacks our sanity – and we’d rather they not comment on the latest twist in the story of life.
Pro: Read Your Family’s Opinions & Thoughts
At some point Facebook turned into a personal soapbox. Status updates rarely are used to actually provide an update on your status. Instead they’re used to rant about the guy who swerved in front of us, complain about political candidates and share personal victories.
This all may seem a little narcissistic, but it’s not a bad thing. By giving people a platform to share our thoughts it provides another way for people to become closer. I live 3,000 miles away from my mom, and though I talk to her about every week, we rarely have time to talk about politics or local news or TV shows. Her updates help me learn things I may not have otherwise known, at least until I flew back home for a visit.
Con: The Family Reads Your Opinions & Thoughts….
…..and that’s great, so long as you and your family agree on most issues. But what happens if you are pro-choice and your dad believes abortions are a mortal sin? Any article or thought you might put on Facebook about the subject opens the door for an online argument or a disapproving comment at family dinner.
Having your family members as your Facebook friends can start to feel like a liability. You might find yourself refraining from posting articles or making comments freely because you don’t want to deal with the fallout at home. This defeats the democratization that supposedly makes the Internet a tool for free thought and leaves you unable to share thoughts easily with your friends.
There’s no easy answer to the question of family on Facebook. It’s a two-way street. Every positive point has a potential negative that comes with it.
Your family will be the determining factor. Some families are more dysfunctional than others, and those that are dysfunctional in real life tend to have issues on Facebook, as well. If you’re afraid that one of your family members is going to go on a tirade the next time you post about this or that political issue, don’t friend them.
If only it were that easy for everyone. You may find yourself in a situation where you don’t want to friend a family member, but the person takes personal offense to the fact you don’t want to friend them. This is a good place to draw a line in the sand if they frequently pressure you, but if you don’t want to deal with the drama you can check out our Facebook privacy guide and our article about using the new privacy controls found on Facebook’s timeline.
Let us know if you friend your family or not on Facebook, and if so, whether it has been a success or a nightmare.